Their chosen activity is one of the most physically demanding of all sports; they practice in anonymity, virtually unknown outside the sport's tight-knit family; and there is no individual glory, everything is done by and for the team.
But it is a sport that has a growing number of dedicated, some would say fanatic, participants.
"It is definitely a sport I love. I'll never quit," says Leanne Krautheim. She is a Petaluma High School senior and a member of the North Bay Rowing club's junior team. She is not alone in her love of the sport. This year, the team, based at the Foundry Wharf on the Petaluma River, has 50 high school-age athletes, representing seven different high schools from Petaluma to Santa Rosa to Napa to Healdsburg.
That number is triple the young athletes Willem Whalen had when he took over coaching the program last year.
The increase in numbers is no accident, Whalen reached out to local high schools, the Petaluma Small Craft Center and community at large, talking about the sport and what was available on the river. Perhaps most importantly, the teenagers began telling their friends about rowing. "The word got out that the kids were having fun," Whalen explained.
The North Bay Rowing Club has a number of built-in attractions for not only the teens, but also for seniors and other club members. "It is an amazing sport," Whalen said, "and the Petaluma River is an amazing place to row. There aren't a lot of places with quiet water where you can row 13 miles, turn around and come back."
Others have discovered the river. It is home for the Sonoma State University Rowing Club, a program that falls under the NBRC's umbrella. Last year the Stanford University women's team held a practice session on the river.
Another big attraction is the camaraderie. Rowers are definitely a part of a family, and are totally dependent on one another whether they are in a two-person, four-person or eight-person boat. "You have to rely and encourage your teammates," said Whalen. "The boats are only as fast as the slowest person. No individual effort will make the boat go faster. You have to match your strokes perfectly."
The rowers work for the team, not themselves.
"Being surrounded by the team makes me push to do better," said Austin Sides, a Petaluma High student who is now in his third season with the NBRC. "It is a pure team sport. We're all working for the same purpose."
The sport can also pay dividends for its young competitors. Two girls on this year's team have received college scholarship offers and Whalen said there are three other club members who are potential scholarship athletes.
Krautheim is one who has a scholarship offer. She will attend Sacramento State next year. She spent her first three competitive years as a rower. For the last two years, she has learned the position of coxswain, the person who verbally controls the boat's steering, speed, timing and safety.
Whalen is an enthusiastic coach who is part task master, part cheerleader and all friend to his young rowers. He began rowing in 1986 and competed at the University of California Berkeley. After graduating he competed for the Oakland Strokes before moving to Marin. After he and his family moved to Marin, he searched for a way to get back involved in the sport. "I wanted to get back into coaching, but I wasn't quite sure how to go about it," he said. During a walk he discovered the Foundry Wharf and the NBC. He simply asked if there was a way he could help.
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